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Sour Grapes Rant - Riffs and Licks
steelbrassnwood
steelbrassnwood
Sour Grapes Rant
I'm in the midst of Annie Proulx's Close Range: Wyoming Stories, from which comes the short story "Brokeback Mountain." The stories are typically stark and beautiful, although sometimes the bitterness and bleakness get to be a bit much. (As they did in the flatly unreadable Accordion Crimes.)

But speaking of bitter and flatly unreadable, Proulx had a column recently in the Guardian, where she gives us a vinefull of sour grapes about Brokeback's failure to win an Oscar. I can certainly sympathize with her depiction of the ceremony -- "the hours sped by on wings of boiler plate. ... three-and-a-half hours of butt-numbing sitting" -- but couldn't she have figured out how annoying and trivial the ceremony would have been, and stayed in Wyoming? Would she have carped as loudly had Brokeback won?

Reading it made me happy it lost, to be honest; while it was a better film than Crash, Good Night and Good Luck was more timely, more beautifully shot, and better acted than either one of them. Proulx says,
Hollywood loves mimicry, the conversion of a film actor into the spittin' image of a once-living celeb. But which takes more skill, acting a person who strolled the boulevard a few decades ago and who left behind tapes, film, photographs, voice recordings and friends with strong memories, or the construction of characters from imagination and a few cold words on the page? I don't know. The subject never comes up. Cheers to David Strathairn, Joaquin Phoenix and Hoffman, but what about actors who start in the dark?
I don't know that either is less of an acting challenge, but one could say that Heath Ledger's main job in the film seemed to be to say as little as possible while maintaining the exact same expression on his face. One could say that, in particular, after enduring the brickbats Proulx hurls at everyone within reach including the bystanders.

"For those who call this little piece a Sour Grapes Rant, play it as it lays," she concludes her column. I just did.

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Comments
rednoodlealien From: rednoodlealien Date: March 18th, 2006 12:43 am (UTC) (Link)
Hmm. I thought you had nothing but bad things to say about Proulx's work. We both agree on ACCORDION CRIMES, and I didn't finish it. I thought you dismissed all of her stuff except SHIPPING NEWS which you called a fluke.

She's entitled to her sour grapes rant. At least it was well written and nobody was brutalized by the end.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: March 18th, 2006 12:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was so disgusted by Accordion Crimes that I was pretty turned off on her. I got Close Range to read "Brokeback Mountain" before seeing the movie, and it's a beautiful story, so I read the rest of the book. But it's harsh and mean-spirited and if you believe her, there isn't a single successful or happy person in the entire state of Wyoming.

I suppose she's entitled to her rant, but I'm entitled to think her writing is miserable and humorless and often too irritating to read. But you're right, 300 words of her writing without a single violent death or horrific incident is a surprise. (I didn't, however, think it was well-written: it was rambling and querulous.)
From: trash80 Date: March 18th, 2006 01:53 am (UTC) (Link)
Hmmm.... Heath Ledger's acting has followed that trend as far as I can remember : saying as little as possible whilst maintaining the exact same expression on his face, even in his older and relatively smaller Aussie gems from which he began his debut. Kind of like an Aussie Bruce Willis, although not as slick or intimidating.

I've been really keen to see Good Night and Good Luck ever since its release, just haven't had the chance. Think I'll have to wait for DVD release, which shouldn't be too long now.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: March 18th, 2006 12:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
I didn't mean to dis on Heath, I was just trying to take the same attitude that Proulx did in her column. I actually think he did a fine job in the film, managing to say a lot with a little, like Sonny Boy Williamson.
From: trash80 Date: March 19th, 2006 02:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
Sounds like it's worth a looksee, then.
shunn From: shunn Date: March 21st, 2006 09:21 pm (UTC) (Link)

Click this Link!

Kelly Link and a little jury-choice novelette called "Louise's Ghosts" dashed my Nebula hopes back in '02. It was such a lovely day on the green carpet there in Kansas City too, with the cornfed yokels gaping as we sci-fi royalty strode from our airport shuttle vans into the Embassy Suites in the suits we take out of mothballs once or twice a decade for occasions like these, and which still look dashing even when they're a little too tight. The editor to my right kept my whisky glass full and my sorry ass from slumping to the floor during the endless self-serving speechifying and the ritual recitation of bad puns from the particle-board lectern. And then that, that writer who had the temerity to write what a sufficient percentage of SFWA members considered to be a better story than mine, this, this brazen scrivener was announced the winner of that coveted chuck of lucite with the embedded fluff, and I was finally free to enjoy the remainder of the evening, damn her bloody eyes!!!

But no one asked me to whinge about it in the Guardian.
bobhowe From: bobhowe Date: March 22nd, 2006 03:12 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Click this Link!

No one likes Kelly Link. Kelly Link sleeps with the fishes.

Annie Proulx may be a jealous, petty human being, but I think she's a transcendant writer. It's true that a lot of her fiction is bleak, but I don't find that a flaw. In the main her work is "small," driven by character and not large external events.

I haven't seen Crash (the movie) yet, so I don't know how it stacks up against Brokeback, but I do think the latter was a damn fine movie, completely aside from the politically correct piety we're supposed to display for so-called "message" movies.

Ken wrote: "...one could say that Heath Ledger's main job in the film seemed to be to say as little as possible while maintaining the exact same expression on his face."

I don't think that's entirely fair. In fact I think it's dead wrong: Ledger made his character enormously expressive within the limits of taciturn cowboy culture—exactly what the character called for.

I would say Ledger's acting and Proulx's writing are of a kind—both are subtle and understated. You really have to pay attention to get everything from them. If you've been listening to hard rock, for example, it takes some adjustment to appreciate chamber music. Both have their place.

By the same token, I don't believe literary fiction is necessarily superior to popular novels. There is more emphasis on solid line-by-line writing and psychological depth in literary fiction, and less emphasis on storytelling. When literary fiction fails, it's often because it putters along in masturbatory self-absorbtion. When popular fiction fails it's often because the characters are cardboard cutouts being moved against vastly more interesting backgrounds.

steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: March 22nd, 2006 03:43 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Click this Link!

I said to my mom (who loved Close Range) in email yesterday: "With a few exceptions, I think if I'd read any single one of
the stories on their own, I would have been blown away. But all
together, it's just too much." She certainly is a beautiful writer (though nobody ever seems to transcend much of anything in her fiction, so much as get beaten down by it).

When popular fiction fails it's often because the characters are cardboard cutouts being moved against vastly more interesting backgrounds.

I think you're right; perhaps my reaction to Proulx is that she's moving very complex characters against an incredibly monotonous background. Although even the characters, in their taciturn defeatism, grow less interesting and harder to distinguish as the book goes on.

On Heath Ledger, see my response above to trash80. I thought he was great. My point above was that if one wanted to be as snotty as Proulx was in her column, one could say that about him, not that I really believe that. "Kind of like Sonny Boy Williamson" is very high praise. I liked the movie better than the story, actually. Both were understated, but that's not a virtue in and of itself.
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